His lips are moving: In order to serve you better


Q: How do you know when a lawyer is lying?

A: His lips are moving.

This is of course a completely unfair and discriminatory joke.

Many lawyers are women.

Anyway, today I'm going to rant about the phrase "In order to serve you better." Whenever you hear this phrase, you are pretty much guaranteed that whatever follows will in fact not serve you better at all.

When I bought tickets to see Real Madrid play against some Americans, the online ticket service gave me multiple options for receiving my tickets. I could have them mailed to me, or I could have the tickets sent to me electronically. And for some reason, there was a "convenience fee" for receiving electronic tickets, even though sending me electronic tickets costs them approximately one gazillionth of a penny†, whereas paper tickets cost them paper, handling, and postage. They are inviting me to pay more so they can save money. To maximize their revenues, they also put "(Recommended)" next to the electronic ticketing option and selected it by default.

I can't believe they get away with this.

It used to be that when you looked up somebody's office number in the address book at Microsoft, you got something like "9S/1044", which means "Room 1044 in the South wing of Building 9." These buildings are big, and knowing which half to start in can save you a lot of walking, especially in some buildings where the two wings are not always connected! For example, in Building 26 the north and south wings are connected only on the first two floors. If you want to get from the north wing of the third floor to the south wing, you have to go down a flight of stairs, then across, then up.

But several years ago, they removed the wing designation from the address book. That same office is now listed as simply "9/1044". When I asked why they removed the wing designations, I was told, "We did this in order to serve you better. Many people were confused by it."

I have yet to find any of those people who are being served better. Every single person I asked wanted the wing designations restored, too.

Nitpicker's corner

†A gazillion is not an actual number.

Comments (44)
  1. Neal says:

    Is building 9 actually one physical building or is it two physical buildings which have been joined on those two floors and called one?

    If the former, was it designed by one of those "famous" architects that gets paid millions to design buildings that are raved about yet always have serious design flaws that must be repaired or worked around?

    If the latter I can only guess why they joined the buildings and labelled them as one… in order to serve you better, right?

  2. Greg D says:

    Ah, a peeve I can identify with!

    My favorite examples of things that are done "in order to serve you better" always seem to come from the governmental angle.  For example, when I was in college I (like most folks) had to hold down a job at the same time.  This particular job didn’t allow me much time away, for various reasons, so I frequently had to conduct personal business (like putting the water bill in my name after my flatmate moved out) over the phone.  Sure enough, I finally get a long enough break to call the department of water on my lunch break only to be told by the answering machine that they didn’t answer phones between 11AM and 1PM "for my convenience."

    So I badgered my boss a bit and was able to get some time off in the middle of the day (the condition being that it was over my lunch break) to head downtown in person to straighten out the water bill.  I probably should have guessed, but "for my convenience" they didn’t have anybody at the front desk to handle people who showed up in person between 12 and 1PM.

    And yeah, I’ve always wondered what’s convenient about spending extra money when I’m tempted to buy movie tickets online.

  3. richard says:

    It is false to say the electronic tickets cost next to nothing. In material costs, that is true, but they have to amortize the cost of the software delivery system and the electronic infrastructure somewhere. In polite speak, it may be referred to as a "convenience charge" (much like the convenience charge at ATMs – does anyone use them anymore?)

    Other fees I get charged that I don’t understand are delivery charges for electricity and natural gas. Hmmm … as far as I know, the infrastructure is in place (and has been in place) for a very, very long time (we’re talking over 30 years in my neighbourhood).

  4. Daniel Garlans says:

    As a frequent concert-goer, I’ve learned to live with the "convenience charge" racket… convenience fees per ticket, for delivery options, and then overall convenience fees just for making the order in the first place.

    Makes me wonder sometimes if I’m in the wrong business; companies like that must be pure profit-making machines, especially when the cost of the tickets themselves seems like it’s less than 50% of the final price.

  5. Garry Trinder says:

    In the area of charging you for nothing, my pet peeve is even older than the electronic age (and still going on).

    For any bank checking account, if you were to write a check for which you don’t have sufficent funds, most banks will pay the check (leaving you with a negative balance), and then tack on a service charge. This is fine.

    However, if you were to then write another check, the bank will normally deny payment, but still charge you a fee.  Why? They didn’t pay the check! What service have they performed?

  6. Christoph Weber says:

    I totally agree with you.

    Last year I’ve been to a cinema led by a large cinema chain here in germany (name deleted). While waiting in the (pretty long) line at the ticket sales desk, I spotted a ticket vending machine with a sign on it, telling me I would be able to get my ticket there if I pre-booked it over their internet page.

    Trying to be smart, I pulled out my smart phone and browsed on to their site and tried to buy the ticket.

    And there it struck me – they were charinging a fee of nearly 2 US$ per ticket if I would buy them on the internet.

    Are they nuts?

    I would happily help them save personel, reduce the length of the line and help them so to make the other customers happier too and they are trying to make me pay for this “service”?

    The end of the story was that I stayed in line and bought my ticket the “traditional” way.

    Do I have to add that in the 15 Minutes in the line nobody at all used this great device?

    People are funny …

  7. RussN says:

    You probably get charged a fee because their reservation system is set up in a fashion similar to this : http://worsethanfailure.com/Articles/6_to_8_Weeks_If_You_0x27_re_Lucky.aspx

    And thus, really is more labor intensive.

  8. Aaargh! says:

    "And for some reason, there was a ‘convenience fee’ for receiving electronic tickets, even though sending me electronic tickets costs them approximately one gazillionth of a penny†, whereas paper tickets cost them paper, handling, and postage."

    So, when is Microsoft going to offer free downloads of their products ? After all, it’ll save them the cost of producing the CD, boxing it, shipping, etc. etc.

  9. Martin Brown says:

    Over here in the UK we have a cable company that used to give a £2 discount if you paid by standing order rather than by cheque. One year they sent round a flyer boasting about how the prices had remained unchanged that year.

    When I read the small print though I found they had removed the £2 discount and decided to charge cheque payers a £2 surcharge. So rather than the prices staying the same everyone was in fact paying £2 more.

  10. The phrase "in order to serve you better" is oft heard on those REALLY annoying automated call handling systems – the ones that take you through a gazillion menus before dropping the call or before telling you that actaully the dept you want is closed.

    Also, Have you noticed have ALL those damned annoying automated call handlers also have the phrase "our menus have changed" because people just wrote down the numbers they required and jabed them in to avoid having to listen to the self-righteous computer at the end of the phone.

  11. Skizz says:

    I just threw together some (conservative) numbers with regard to the cinema internet booking fee:

     lets say 50p per ticket,

     10 people per screening use the service,

     5 screens per complex,

     3 showings a day,

     364 days a year

     25 multiplexes

    which comes to nearly £700,000 per year. Thinking about the costs, you’ve got the servers, the content creation, administration and utilities so it probably evens out.

    Accountants like this set up – each bit of the whole paying for itself and making profit. What this fails to account for is the savings made elsewhere in the whole company. If the reduction in staff at each cinema was factored into the cost calculation then the service charge would be less (thus enticing more people to use the service).

    Of course, businesses do try to extract as much profit as possible from each customer, so the service charge is probably here to stay.

    I also hate the term ‘convenience charge’. I once had to do a half mile excursion to get some cash out of an ATM – I wonder if I could reclaim the charge as it turned out to be highly inconvenient.

  12. Mark W says:

    "So, when is Microsoft going to offer free downloads of their products ? After all, it’ll save them the cost of producing the CD, boxing it, shipping, etc. etc."

    Um… right now. You can buy Vista online and download it without paying any kind of extra convenience fee. It is an extra $15 or so if you also order installation CD/DVDs, but that makes sense.

    One note – I don’t think I’ve ever seen an extra charge for airline e-tickets. But I think airlines have figured out the [fewer personnel = more profit] equation quite well.

  13. mph says:

    I once saw a store (or perhaps a restaurant) with a sign that said, in its entirety:

    "To serve you better, we will be closed from (Date 1) to (Date 2)."

  14. Gabe says:

    My pet peeve about Microsoft’s building numbering is that buildings often don’t have an exact North and South, for example. Building 26 has two wings joined at a right angle, so it’s more like 26N and 26W.

  15. John says:

    Can paying for a convenience fee be so convenient that they charge a convenience fee for it?

  16. Spire says:

    mph wrote:

    I once saw a store (or perhaps a restaurant) with a sign that said, in its entirety:

    "To serve you better, we will be closed from (Date 1) to (Date 2)."

    Well, quantity != quality.

  17. Matt Green says:

    This can be generalized to the following: anytime a non-personal entity comes right out and says they are doing something for you, you should be highly suspicious that it isn’t in your best interest.

  18. David Walker says:

    Mark W: The Vista downloads are only the upgrade versions.  Full Vista is not legally available for download (other than maybe for MSDN subscribers).  

    Most downloads of Vista at the "OEM" sites are pirated.

  19. Chris says:

    Richard: "It is false to say the electronic tickets cost next to nothing. In material costs, that is true, but they have to amortize the cost of the software delivery system and the electronic infrastructure somewhere."

    True, but they’ve already SPENT that money.  If a given customer orders e-tickets instead of paper tickets, the company saves money (or they should, anyway).  But they’re charging an extra fee to discourage customers from doing that.

    The way to recover the infrastructure costs is in the cost savings from not having to deliver paper tickets.

  20. Caliban Darklock says:

    Yay! Building 26 made Raymond’s blog!

    I feel special.

  21. Airline Tickets » His lips are moving: In order to serve you better says:

    PingBack from http://airlineticketsblog.info/his-lips-are-moving-in-order-to-serve-you-better/

  22. John Hensley says:

    Raymond I don’t know about you, but if I happened to meet Brad Smith in the hallway I’d want to shake his hand.

  23. Anony Moose says:

    We are recording this phone call "for training purposes to serve you better" and not so that we can have a record of you being an asshole. If our employees are assholes we promise to consider not deleting the recording and claiming that we only record some calls. Honest. You can trust us. We’re from the board of directors and we’re here to help you.

  24. Tim says:

    "For your comfort and safety" is another good one.

    I was travelling on a coach once, and they announced over the PA that "For your comfort and safety, wearing a seatbelt on this journey is mandatory."

    Now, safety I can understand…but comfort?  Maybe they meant my comfort in the event of a crash.

  25. DriverDude says:

    "But several years ago, they removed the wing designation from the address book. …. "Many people were confused by it." "

    That’s actually quite rational: the people who understand the old addressing scheme do not complain and appreciate the efficency. The newbies who don’t (or cannot) understand will complain. And they probably have a good argument: how many other buildings use the scheme? So the bldg managers decide to "fix" it.

    They are serving you – the complainers – better.

    Of course, what’s rational for the newbies isn’t rational for what the room numbers are used for: locating other people!

  26. Dan McCarty says:

    "Why? They didn’t pay the check! What service have they performed?"

    JamesCurran: That would be the service of not closing your checking account while you bounce multiple checks off of it, since when you opened the account you probably signed a 3pt font, 9-page form that said you would be a nice customer and not do that.

  27. hexatron says:

    "Our menus have changed recently…"

    –that’s why they re-recorded the menu announcement!

    This is the same as "I was looking for x, and I found it in the very last place I looked!"

    And as for the government, au contraire:

    I called IRS with a question today. A live person was only 2 menus deep, responsive and extremely helpful, and the on-hold muzak was Mozart Eine Kliene Nachtmusik!  The IRS phone help is a class act!

  28. I see a high-margin opportunity here. (name deleted) should get out of the events business, and start selling pure, unadulterated convenience!

  29. steveg says:

    I thought MS discourages people meeting in person, and encourages Messenger + Email — is that true?

    Me, I always enjoy talking a walk and the fun of bothering people.

  30. Norman Diamond says:

    one gazillionth of a penny

    You should see the nitpicking done by some coin collectors.  In this case it’s mostly US collectors asserting that a 1-cent coin cannot be slanged a penny because it doesn’t say one penny on the back.  Then in the same paragraph[+] they slang a 5-cent coin as a nickel, ignoring the fact that it doesn’t say one nickel on the back.

    [+ Nitpicker’s corner:  Sometimes a different paragraph in the same Usenet posting.]

    Every single person I asked wanted the wing

    designations restored, too.

    Nitpicker’s corner:  Try asking a married person.

    Wednesday, April 04, 2007 5:16 PM by Leo Davidson

    and "Windows Genuine Advantage" spring to mind.

    Yup, no kidding.  On April Fools Day, Microsoft told me how big a fool I was for buying a genuine Windows XP licence.  I bought a used PC with a Windows XP sticker attached to the bottom.  Microsoft’s server on the internet said the licence key was invalid.  Microsoft’s automated phone system said the key was invalid.  The first human I spoke to couldn’t handle it.  The second human I spoke to could handle it: (gender deleted) said the key is valid and matches the model of computer, understood my upgrades of RAM and DVD drive and hard drive, and couldn’t detect if the key had been abused in the past, but still refused to give me an unlocking code.  I want to send the computer to Microsoft, let them remove the licence sticker, and get a refund for the licence.

    Nitpicker’s corner:  I wasn’t always a fool for buying used computers with genuine licences.  But that was before April Fool’s Day.

  31. Leo Davidson says:

    (name deleted) Quality Protection” and “Windows Genuine Advantage” spring to mind. Technologies which, at best, do nothing for the consumer shouldn’t have names like that.

    What was wrong with “Copy Protection?” We know what that is. We accept that it exists on much commercial software/media. Why make things worse by pretending it’s for our benefit with a patronising name that even the least technically literate person can see through?

    “Your call is important to us” and “we are experiencing unprecedented demand and cannot answer the phone at present” are another two pet hates. If my call was important then they’d hire more staff and the demand cannot be atypical because I hear such a message almost every time I call a call centre.

    The phrase that I really cannot stand, though, is “We are doing everything possible.” It’s patently untrue. When Thames Water in London were found, once again, to have failed to meet the government-set targets for fixing leaky water pipes they said they were doing everything possible. I don’t remember them trying to hire me and everyone else in the country to help fix the job or suspending upper management’s pay to fund the repairs. Those two things are perfectly possible, though. When the parcel company screwed up a recent delivery for three days in a row (again!) and I escalated my way through to their head office I was told they were doing everything possible. I completely lost it on the phone. Everything possible, except putting my package in a van — or a helicopter, that’s *possible* — and driving it to my house, it seemed.

  32. Gabe says:

    I think that generally speaking, if they have to tell you what something is, it probably isn’t. For example, if you buy something that says it’s "food" (like processed cheese food), it is probably not fit for human consumption.

  33. Dick Darlington says:

    Before you laugh at the setup in the worsethanfailure story linked above, here’s another real-world example from a couple of years ago.  It involves another order fulfilment company that acts as a centralised clearinghouse for order processing.  They decide they’re going to take everything online and so they set up all of their clients with fax MODEMs (this was before widespread Internet access).  The retailers fax in their order with the fax MODEM, and it’s received at a central site by another fax MODEM.  It then gets printed out and typed in by data entry clerks.  Once it’s been processed, the central site uses a fax MODEM to fax a confirmation back to the retailer’s fax MODEM.

    I can just see the cretins that set this thing up sitting there saying "I wonder what this modem thing is that came with our neat shiny new fax card, and what it’s used for?".

  34. mph says:

    Gabe:  "I think that generally speaking, if they have to tell you what something is, it probably isn’t."

    Similarly, any country with "Democratic" in its name probably isn’t.

  35. David Walker says:

    I can understand "Windows Genuine Advantage".  Microsoft is trying to impress upon people the advantage of having genuine, non-pirated software.

    Such as the knowledge that the software hasn’t been tampered with to add viruses or Trojans, etc.  That’s why another advantage (which is entirely in Microsoft’s control) is the ability to get security and other updates for genuine software.

    Gabe:  Don’t get me started on what I call "pasteurized, processed imitation cheese food substitute".  Even worse than that flavorless abomination they call American cheese.

  36. David Walker says:

    When you bounce checks, the bank should, of course, ADD money to your checking account, not take more money out!   :-)

  37. Ha Ha? says:

    A fortunate side effect of switching from 9S/1044 to 9/1044 is that you can tape a piece of paper to your door that says:

    8.62E-2

  38. Ha Ha? says:

    Oops… that should be:

    8.62E-3

  39. N. Velope says:

      I read an article about FedEx that said that it cost them 21 cents to process an order placed through the internet, but $1.10 for an order placed by phone, so they were really encouraging people to use their software.  

  40. Tomer Chachamu says:

    ‘I can understand "Windows Genuine Advantage".  Microsoft is trying to impress upon people the advantage of having genuine, non-pirated software.’

    You’ve been had! The advantage (rather minimal though it may be) is in having genuine software, not in being spied on and pestered about your illegitimate status.

  41. James says:

    I’m now wondering if Raymond moonlights doing web design for my bank; after reading this article, I went to check my credit card balance – only to be given a similar message, something like "We are constantly improving our service, so this facility isn’t available at the moment."

    Far from the first time I’ve hit messages like that, too (there are three different ways to reach each account – a menu at the top, links from the first page after you log in and another set of links somewhere else; usually, one or two of them work, the other one or two give 404s!)

    Still, maybe all this "constant improvement" will eventually lead to a site which works. Or I’ll finally get around to changing banks, which seems a lot more likely; it’s a shame that, presumably, Raymond didn’t get a choice which company to buy the soccer tickets from.

    Is there no logic to the room numbers themselves (e.g. 1020-1040 being in the South wing, 1001-1019 in the North)? I know ours is devoid of logic, to the extent I’ve had our own Buildings team, of all people, call me asking for directions to my office…

  42. They actually are being rolled back.

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